At least, this looks like a problem to me., especially when I’m trying to make conversation at the local moms group.
There are many potential reasons the data looks like this (including inaccuracy, though my lived experience says it is accurate.) Our culture encourages people to limit their fertility, and smart women are especially so encouraged. Smart people are also better at long-term planning and doing things like “reading the instructions on the birth control.”
But it seems likely that there is another factor, an arrow of causation pointing in the other direction: smart people tend to stay in school for longer, and people dislike having children while they are still in school. While you are in school, you are in some sense still a child, and we have a notion that children shouldn’t beget children.
People who drop out of school and start having children at 16 tend not to be very smart and also tend to have plenty of children during their child-creating years. People who pursue post-docs into their thirties tend to be very smart–and many of them are virgins.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I kind of like having smart people around, especially the kinds of people who invent refrigerators and make supply chains work so I can enjoy eating food, even though I live in a city, far from any farms. I don’t want to live in a world where IQ is crashing and we can no longer maintain complex technological systems.
We need to completely re-think this system where the smarter you are, the longer you are expected to stay in school, accruing debt and not having children.
Proposal one: Accelerated college for bright students. Let any student who can do college-level work begin college level work for college credits, even if they are still in high (or middle) school. There are plenty of bright students out there who could be completing their degrees by 18.
The entirely framework of schooling probably ought to be sped up in a variety of ways, especially for bright students. The current framework often reflects the order in which various discoveries were made, rather than the age at which students are capable of learning the material. For example, negative numbers are apparently not introduced in the math curriculum until 6th grade, even though, in my experience, even kindergarteners are perfectly capable of understanding the concept of “debt.” If I promise to give you one apple tomorrow, then I have “negative one apple.” There is no need to hide the concept of negatives for 6 years.
Proposal two: More apprenticeship.
In addition to being costly and time-consuming, a college degree doesn’t even guarantee that your chosen field will still be hiring when you graduate. (I know people with STEM degrees who graduated right as the dot.com bubble burst. Ouch.) We essentially want our educational system to turn out people who are highly skilled at highly specialized trades, and capable of turning around and becoming highly skilled at another highly specialized trade on a dime if that doesn’t work out. This leads to chemists returning to university to get law degrees; physicists to go back for medical degrees. We want students to have both “broad educations” so they can get hired anywhere, and “deep educations” so they’ll actually be good at their jobs.
Imagine, instead, a system where highschool students are allowed to take a two-year course in preparation for a particular field, at the end of which high performers are accepted into an apprenticeship program where the continue learning on the job. At worst, these students would have a degree, income, and job experience by the age of 20, even if they decided they now wanted to switch professions or pursue an independent education.
Proposal three: Make childbearing normal for adult students.
There’s no reason college students can’t get married and have children (aside from, obviously, their lack of jobs and income.) College is not more time consuming or physically taxing than regular jobs, and college campuses tend to be pretty pleasant places. Studying while pregnant isn’t any more difficult than working while pregnant.
Grad students, in particular, are old and mature enough to get married and start families, and society should encourage them to do so.
Proposal four: stop denigrating child-rearing, especially for intelligent women.
Children are a lot of work, but they’re also fun. I love being with my kids. They are my family and an endless source of happiness.
What people want and value, they will generally strive to obtain.
Welcome to EvX’s Book Club. Today we begin our exciting tour of Philip E. Auerswald’s The Code Eoconomy: A Forty-Thousand-Year History. with the introduction, Technology = Recipes, and Chapter one, Jobs: Divide and Coordinate if we get that far.
I’m not sure exactly how to run a book club, so just grab some coffee and let’s dive right in.
First, let’s note that Auerswald doesn’t mean code in the narrow sense of “commands fed into a computer” but in a much broader sense of all encoded processes humans have come up with. His go-to example is the cooking recipe.
The Code Economy describes the evolution of human productive activity from simplicity to complexity over the span of more than 40,000 years. I call this evolutionary process the advance of code.
I find the cooking example a bit cutesy, but otherwise it gets the job done.
How… have we humans managed to get where we are today despite our abundant failings, including wars, famine, and a demonstrably meager capacity for society-wide planning and coordination? … by developing productive activities that evolve into regular routines and standardized platforms–which is to say that we have survived, and thrived, by creating and advancing code.
There’s so much in this book that almost every sentence bears discussion. First, as I’ve noted before, social organization appears to be a spontaneous emergent feature of every human group. Without even really meaning to, humans just naturally seem compelled organize themselves. One day you’re hanging out with your friends, riding motorcycles, living like an outlaw, and the next thing you know you’re using the formal legal system to sue a toy store for infringement of your intellectual property.
At the same time, our ability to organize society at the national level is completely lacking. As one of my professors once put it, “God must hate communists, because every time a country goes communist, an “act of god” occurs and everyone dies.”
It’s a mystery why God hates communists so much, but hate ’em He does. Massive-scale social engineering is a total fail and we’ll still be suffering the results for a long time.
This creates a kind of conflict, because people can look at the small-scale organizing they do, and they look at large-scale disorganization, and struggle to understand why the small stuff can’t simply be scaled up.
And yet… society still kind of works. I can go to the grocery store and be reasonably certain that by some magical process, fresh produce has made its way from fields in California to the shelf in front of me. By some magical process, I can wave a piece of plastic around and use it to exchange enough other, unseen goods to pay for my groceries. I can climb into a car I didn’t build and cruise down a network of streets and intersections, reasonably confident that everyone else driving their own two-ton behemoth at 60 miles an hour a few feet away from me has internalized the same rules necessary for not crashing into me. Most of the time. And I can go to the gas station and pour a miracle liquid into my car and the whole system works, whether or not I have any clue how all of the parts manage to come together and do so.
The result is a miracle. Modern society is a miracle. If you don’t believe me, try using an outhouse for a few months. Try carrying all of your drinking water by hand from the local stream and chopping down all of the wood you need to boil it to make it potable. Try fighting off parasites, smallpox, or malaria without medicine or vaccinations. For all my complaints (and I know I complain a lot,) I love civilization. I love not worrying about cholera, crop failure, or dying from cavities. I love air conditioning, refrigerators, and flush toilets. I love books and the internet and domesticated strawberries. All of these are things I didn’t create and can’t take credit for, but get to enjoy nonetheless. I have been blessed.
But at the same time, “civilization” isn’t equally distributed. Millions (billions?) of the world’s peoples don’t have toilets, electricity, refrigerators, or even a decent road from their village to the next.
Auerswald is a passionate champion of code. His answer to unemployment problems is probably “learn to code,” but in such a broad, metaphorical way that encompasses so many human activities that we can probably forgive him for it. One thing he doesn’t examine is why code takes off in some places but not others. Why is civilization more complex in Hong Kong than in Somalia? Why does France boast more Fields Medalists than the DRC?
In our next book (Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration,) we’ll discuss whether specific structures like legal and tax codes can affect how well societies grow and thrive (spoiler alert: they do, just see communism,) and of course you are already familiar with the Jared Diamond environmentalist theory that folks in some parts of the world just had better natural resources to work than in other parts (also true, at least in some cases. I’m not expecting some great industry to get up and running on its own in the arctic.)
But laying these concerns aside, there are obviously other broad factors at work. A map of GDP per capita looks an awful lot like a map of average IQs, with obvious caveats about the accidentally oil-rich Saudis and economically depressed ex-communists.
Auerswald believes that the past 40,000 years of code have not been disasters for the human race, but rather a cascade of successes, as each new invention and expansion to our repertoir of “recipes” or “codes” has enabled a whole host of new developments. For example, the development of copper tools didn’t just put flint knappers out of business, it also opened up whole new industries because you can make more varieties of tools out of copper than flint. Now we had copper miners, copper smelters (a new profession), copper workers. Copper tools could be sharpened and, unlike stone, resharpened, making copper tools more durable. Artists made jewelry; spools of copper wires became trade goods, traveling long distances and stimulating the prehistoric “economy.” New code bequeaths complexity and even more code, not mass flint-knapper unemployment.
Likewise, the increase in reliable food supply created by farming didn’t create mass hunter-gatherer unemployment, but stimulated the growth of cities and differentiation of humans into even more professions, like weavers, cobblers, haberdashers, writers, wheelwrights, and mathematicians.
It’s a hopeful view, and I appreciate it in these anxious times.
But it’s very easy to say that the advent of copper or bronze or agriculture was a success because we are descended from the people who succeeded. We’re not descended from the hunter-gatherers who got displaced or wiped out by agriculturalists. In recent cases where hunter-gatherer or herding societies were brought into the agriculturalist fold, the process has been rather painful.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s The Harmless People, about the Bushmen of the Kalahari, might overplay the romance and downplay the violence, but the epilogue’s description of how the arrival of “civilization” resulted in the deaths and degradation of the Bushmen brought tears to my eyes. First they died of dehydration because new fences erected to protect “private property” cut them off from the only water. No longer free to pursue the lives they had lived for centuries, they were moved onto what are essentially reservations and taught to farm and herd. Alcoholism and violence became rampant.
Among the book’s many characters was a man who had lost most of his leg to snakebite. He suffered terribly as his leg rotted away, cared for by his wife and family who brought him food. Eventually, with help, he healed and obtained a pair of crutches, learned to walk again, and resumed hunting: providing for his family.
And then in “civilization” he was murdered by one of his fellow Bushmen.
It’s a sad story and there are no easy answers. Bushman life is hard. Most people, when given the choice, seem to pick civilization. But usually we aren’t given a choice. The Bushmen weren’t. Neither were factory workers who saw their jobs automated and outsourced. Some Bushmen will adapt and thrive. Nelson Mandela was part Bushman, and he did quite well for himself. But many will suffer.
What to do about the suffering of those left behind–those who cannot cope with change, who do not have the mental or physical capacity to “learn to code” or otherwise adapt remains an unanswered question. Humanity might move on without them, ignoring their suffering because we find them undeserving of compassion–or we might get bogged down trying to save them all. Perhaps we can find a third route: sympathy for the unfortunate without encouraging obsolete behavior?
In The Great Degeneration, Ferguson wonders why the systems (“code”) that supports our society appears to be degenerating. I have a crude but answer: people are getting stupider. It takes a certain amount of intelligence to run a piece of code. Even a simple task like transcribing numbers is better performed by a smarter person than a dumber person, who is more likely to accidentally write down the wrong number. Human systems are built and executed by humans, and if the humans in them are less intelligent than the ones who made them, then they will do a bad job of running the systems.
Unfortunately for those of us over in civilization, dysgenics is a real thing:
Whether you blame IQ itself or the number of years smart people spend in school, dumb people have more kids (especially the parents of the Baby Boomers.) Epigone here only looks at white data (I believe Jayman has the black data and it’s just as bad, if not worse.)
Of course we can debate about the Flynn effect and all that, but I suspect there two competing things going on: First, a rising 50’s economic tide lifted all boats, making everyone healthier and thus smarter and better at taking IQ tests and making babies, and second, declining infant mortality since the late 1800s and possibly the Welfare state made it easier for the children of the poorest and least capable parents to survive.
The effects of these two trends probably cancel out at first, but after a while you run out of Flynn effect (maybe) and then the other starts to show up. Eventually you get Greece: once the shining light of Civilization, now defaulting on its loans.
Well, we have made it a page in!
What do you think of the book? Have you finished it yet? What do you think of the way Auersbach conceptualizes of “code” and its basis as the building block of pretty much all human activity? Do you think Auersbach is essentially correct to be hopeful about our increasingly code-driven future, or should we beware of the tradeoffs to individual autonomy and freedom inherent in becoming a glorified colony of ants?
A species may live in relative equilibrium with its environment, hardly changing from generation to generation, for millions of years. Turtles, for example, have barely changed since the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.
But if the environment changes–critically, if selective pressures change–then the species will change, too. This was most famously demonstrated with English moths, which changed color from white-and-black speckled to pure black when pollution darkened the trunks of the trees they lived on. To survive, these moths need to avoid being eaten by birds, so any moth that stands out against the tree trunks tends to get turned into an avian snack. Against light-colored trees, dark-colored moths stood out and were eaten. Against dark-colored trees, light-colored moths stand out.
This change did not require millions of years. Dark-colored moths were virtually unknown in 1810, but by 1895, 98% of the moths were black.
The time it takes for evolution to occur depends simply on A. The frequency of a trait in the population and B. How strongly you are selecting for (or against) it.
Let’s break this down a little bit. Within a species, there exists a great deal of genetic variation. Some of this variation happens because two parents with different genes get together and produce offspring with a combination of their genes. Some of this variation happens because of random errors–mutations–that occur during copying of the genetic code. Much of the “natural variation” we see today started as some kind of error that proved to be useful, or at least not harmful. For example, all humans originally had dark skin similar to modern Africans’, but random mutations in some of the folks who no longer lived in Africa gave them lighter skin, eventually producing “white” and “Asian” skin tones.
(These random mutations also happen in Africa, but there they are harmful and so don’t stick around.)
Natural selection can only act on the traits that are actually present in the population. If we tried to select for “ability to shoot x-ray lasers from our eyes,” we wouldn’t get very far, because no one actually has that mutation. By contrast, albinism is rare, but it definitely exists, and if for some reason we wanted to select for it, we certainly could. (The incidence of albinism among the Hopi Indians is high enough–1 in 200 Hopis vs. 1 in 20,000 Europeans generally and 1 in 30,000 Southern Europeans–for scientists to discuss whether the Hopi have been actively selecting for albinism. This still isn’t a lot of albinism, but since the American Southwest is not a good environment for pale skin, it’s something.)
You will have a much easier time selecting for traits that crop up more frequently in your population than traits that crop up rarely (or never).
Second, we have intensity–and variety–of selective pressure. What % of your population is getting removed by natural selection each year? If 50% of your moths get eaten by birds because they’re too light, you’ll get a much faster change than if only 10% of moths get eaten.
Selection doesn’t have to involve getting eaten, though. Perhaps some of your moths are moth Lotharios, seducing all of the moth ladies with their fuzzy antennae. Over time, the moth population will develop fuzzier antennae as these handsome males out-reproduce their less hirsute cousins.
No matter what kind of selection you have, nor what part of your curve it’s working on, all that ultimately matters is how many offspring each individual has. If white moths have more children than black moths, then you end up with more white moths. If black moths have more babies, then you get more black moths.
So what happens when you completely remove selective pressures from a population?
Back in 1968, ethologist John B. Calhoun set up an experiment popularly called “Mouse Utopia.” Four pairs of mice were given a large, comfortable habitat with no predators and plenty of food and water.
Predictably, the mouse population increased rapidly–once the mice were established in their new homes, their population doubled every 55 days. But after 211 days of explosive growth, reproduction began–mysteriously–to slow. For the next 245 days, the mouse population doubled only once every 145 days.
The birth rate continued to decline. As births and death reached parity, the mouse population stopped growing. Finally the last breeding female died, and the whole colony went extinct.
As I’ve mentioned before Israel is (AFAIK) the only developed country in the world with a TFR above replacement.
It has long been known that overcrowding leads to population stress and reduced reproduction, but overcrowding can only explain why the mouse population began to shrink–not why it died out. Surely by the time there were only a few breeding pairs left, things had become comfortable enough for the remaining mice to resume reproducing. Why did the population not stabilize at some comfortable level?
Professor Bruce Charlton suggests an alternative explanation: the removal of selective pressures on the mouse population resulted in increasing mutational load, until the entire population became too mutated to reproduce.
Unfortunately, randomly changing part of your genetic code is more likely to give you no skin than skintanium armor.
But only the worst genetic problems that never see the light of day. Plenty of mutations merely reduce fitness without actually killing you. Down Syndrome, famously, is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.
While a few traits–such as sex or eye color–can be simply modeled as influenced by only one or two genes, many traits–such as height or IQ–appear to be influenced by hundreds or thousands of genes:
Differences in human height is 60–80% heritable, according to several twin studies and has been considered polygenic since the Mendelian-biometrician debate a hundred years ago. A genome-wide association (GWA) study of more than 180,000 individuals has identified hundreds of genetic variants in at least 180 loci associated with adult human height. The number of individuals has since been expanded to 253,288 individuals and the number of genetic variants identified is 697 in 423 genetic loci.
Obviously most of these genes each plays only a small role in determining overall height (and this is of course holding environmental factors constant.) There are a few extreme conditions–gigantism and dwarfism–that are caused by single mutations, but the vast majority of height variation is caused by which particular mix of those 700 or so variants you happen to have.
The general figure for the heritability of IQ, according to an authoritative American Psychological Association report, is 0.45 for children, and rises to around 0.75 for late teens and adults. In simpler terms, IQ goes from being weakly correlated with genetics, for children, to being strongly correlated with genetics for late teens and adults. … Recent studies suggest that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores; however, poor prenatal environment, malnutrition and disease can have deleterious effects.…
Despite intelligence having substantial heritability2 (0.54) and a confirmed polygenic nature, initial genetic studies were mostly underpowered3, 4, 5. Here we report a meta-analysis for intelligence of 78,308 individuals. We identify 336 associated SNPs (METAL P < 5 × 10−8) in 18 genomic loci, of which 15 are new. Around half of the SNPs are located inside a gene, implicating 22 genes, of which 11 are new findings. Gene-based analyses identified an additional 30 genes (MAGMA P < 2.73 × 10−6), of which all but one had not been implicated previously. We show that the identified genes are predominantly expressed in brain tissue, and pathway analysis indicates the involvement of genes regulating cell development (MAGMA competitive P = 3.5 × 10−6). Despite the well-known difference in twin-based heritability2 for intelligence in childhood (0.45) and adulthood (0.80), we show substantial genetic correlation (rg = 0.89, LD score regression P = 5.4 × 10−29). These findings provide new insight into the genetic architecture of intelligence.
The greater number of genes influence a trait, the harder they are to identify without extremely large studies, because any small group of people might not even have the same set of relevant genes.
High IQ correlates positively with a number of life outcomes, like health and longevity, while low IQ correlates with negative outcomes like disease, mental illness, and early death. Obviously this is in part because dumb people are more likely to make dumb choices which lead to death or disease, but IQ also correlates with choice-free matters like height and your ability to quickly press a button. Our brains are not some mysterious entities floating in a void, but physical parts of our bodies, and anything that affects our overall health and physical functioning is likely to also have an effect on our brains.
The study focused, for the first time, on rare, functional SNPs – rare because previous research had only considered common SNPs and functional because these are SNPs that are likely to cause differences in the creation of proteins.
The researchers did not find any individual protein-altering SNPs that met strict criteria for differences between the high-intelligence group and the control group. However, for SNPs that showed some difference between the groups, the rare allele was less frequently observed in the high intelligence group. This observation is consistent with research indicating that rare functional alleles are more often detrimental than beneficial to intelligence.
Greg Cochran has some interesting Thoughts on Genetic Load. (Currently, the most interesting candidate genes for potentially increasing IQ also have terrible side effects, like autism, Tay Sachs and Torsion Dystonia. The idea is that–perhaps–if you have only a few genes related to the condition, you get an IQ boost, but if you have too many, you get screwed.) Of course, even conventional high-IQ has a cost: increased maternal mortality (larger heads).
the difference between the fitness of an average genotype in a population and the fitness of some reference genotype, which may be either the best present in a population, or may be the theoretically optimal genotype. … Deleterious mutation load is the main contributing factor to genetic load overall. Most mutations are deleterious, and occur at a high rate.
There’s math, if you want it.
Normally, genetic mutations are removed from the population at a rate determined by how bad they are. Really bad mutations kill you instantly, and so are never born. Slightly less bad mutations might survive, but never reproduce. Mutations that are only a little bit deleterious might have no obvious effect, but result in having slightly fewer children than your neighbors. Over many generations, this mutation will eventually disappear.
(Some mutations are more complicated–sickle cell, for example, is protective against malaria if you have only one copy of the mutation, but gives you sickle cell anemia if you have two.)
Throughout history, infant mortality was our single biggest killer. For example, here is some data from Jakubany, a town in the Carpathian Mountains:
We can see that, prior to the 1900s, the town’s infant mortality rate stayed consistently above 20%, and often peaked near 80%.
When I first ran a calculation of the infant mortality rate, I could not believe certain of the intermediate results. I recompiled all of the data and recalculated … with the same astounding result – 50.4% of the children born in Jakubany between the years 1772 and 1890 would diebefore reaching ten years of age! …one out of every two! Further, over the same 118 year period, of the 13306 children who were born, 2958 died (~22 %) before reaching the age of one.
Historical infant mortality rates can be difficult to calculate in part because they were so high, people didn’t always bother to record infant deaths. And since infants are small and their bones delicate, their burials are not as easy to find as adults’. Nevertheless, Wikipedia estimates that Paleolithic man had an average life expectancy of 33 years:
Based on the data from recent hunter-gatherer populations, it is estimated that at 15, life expectancy was an additional 39 years (total 54), with a 0.60 probability of reaching 15.
In other words, a 40% chance of dying in childhood. (Not exactly the same as infant mortality, but close.)
Wikipedia gives similarly dismal stats for life expectancy in the Neolithic (20-33), Bronze and Iron ages (26), Classical Greece(28 or 25), Classical Rome (20-30), Pre-Columbian Southwest US (25-30), Medieval Islamic Caliphate (35), Late Medieval English Peerage (30), early modern England (33-40), and the whole world in 1900 (31).
Over at ThoughtCo: Surviving Infancy in the Middle Ages, the author reports estimates for between 30 and 50% infant mortality rates. I recall a study on Anasazi nutrition which I sadly can’t locate right now, which found 100% malnutrition rates among adults (based on enamel hypoplasias,) and 50% infant mortality.
As Priceonomics notes, the main driver of increasing global life expectancy–48 years in 1950 and 71.5 years in 2014 (according to Wikipedia)–has been a massive decrease in infant mortality. The average life expectancy of an American newborn back in 1900 was only 47 and a half years, whereas a 60 year old could expect to live to be 75. In 1998, the average infant could expect to live to about 75, and the average 60 year old could expect to live to about 80.
Michael A Woodley suggests that what was going on [in the Mouse experiment] was much more likely to be mutation accumulation; with deleterious (but non-fatal) genes incrementally accumulating with each generation and generating a wide range of increasingly maladaptive behavioural pathologies; this process rapidly overwhelming and destroying the population before any beneficial mutations could emerge to ‘save; the colony from extinction. …
The reason why mouse utopia might produce so rapid and extreme a mutation accumulation is that wild mice naturally suffer very high mortality rates from predation. …
Thus mutation selection balance is in operation among wild mice, with very high mortality rates continually weeding-out the high rate of spontaneously-occurring new mutations (especially among males) – with typically only a small and relatively mutation-free proportion of the (large numbers of) offspring surviving to reproduce; and a minority of the most active and healthy (mutation free) males siring the bulk of each generation.
However, in Mouse Utopia, there is no predation and all the other causes of mortality (eg. Starvation, violence from other mice) are reduced to a minimum – so the frequent mutations just accumulate, generation upon generation – randomly producing all sorts of pathological (maladaptive) behaviours.
Today, almost everyone in the developed world has plenty of food, a comfortable home, and doesn’t have to worry about dying of bubonic plague. We live in humantopia, where the biggest factor influencing how many kids you have is how many you want to have.
Back in 1930, infant mortality rates were highest among the children of unskilled manual laborers, and lowest among the children of professionals (IIRC, this is Brittish data.) Today, infant mortality is almost non-existent, but voluntary childlessness has now inverted this phenomena:
Yes, the percent of childless women appears to have declined since 1994, but the overall pattern of who is having children still holds. Further, while only 8% of women with post graduate degrees have 4 or more children, 26% of those who never graduated from highschool have 4+ kids. Meanwhile, the age of first-time moms has continued to climb.
Take a moment to consider the high-infant mortality situation: an average couple has a dozen children. Four of them, by random good luck, inherit a good combination of the couple’s genes and turn out healthy and smart. Four, by random bad luck, get a less lucky combination of genes and turn out not particularly healthy or smart. And four, by very bad luck, get some unpleasant mutations that render them quite unhealthy and rather dull.
Infant mortality claims half their children, taking the least healthy. They are left with 4 bright children and 2 moderately intelligent children. The three brightest children succeed at life, marry well, and end up with several healthy, surviving children of their own, while the moderately intelligent do okay and end up with a couple of children.
On average, society’s overall health and IQ should hold steady or even increase over time, depending on how strong the selective pressures actually are.
Or consider a consanguineous couple with a high risk of genetic birth defects: perhaps a full 80% of their children die, but 20% turn out healthy and survive.
Today, by contrast, your average couple has two children. One of them is lucky, healthy, and smart. The other is unlucky, unhealthy, and dumb. Both survive. The lucky kid goes to college, majors in underwater intersectionist basket-weaving, and has one kid at age 40. That kid has Down Syndrome and never reproduces. The unlucky kid can’t keep a job, has chronic health problems, and 3 children by three different partners.
Your consanguineous couple migrates from war-torn Somalia to Minnesota. They still have 12 kids, but three of them are autistic with IQs below the official retardation threshold. “We never had this back in Somalia,” they cry. “We don’t even have a word for it.”
People normally think of dysgenics as merely “the dumb outbreed the smart,” but genetic load applies to everyone–men and women, smart and dull, black and white, young and especially old–because we all make random transcription errors when copying our DNA.
I could offer a list of signs of increasing genetic load, but there’s no way to avoid cherry-picking trends I already know are happening, like falling sperm counts or rising (diagnosed) autism rates, so I’ll skip that. You may substitute your own list of “obvious signs society is falling apart at the genes” if you so desire.
Nevertheless, the transition from 30% (or greater) infant mortality to almost 0% is amazing, both on a technical level and because it heralds an unprecedented era in human evolution. The selective pressures on today’s people are massively different from those our ancestors faced, simply because our ancestors’ biggest filter was infant mortality. Unless infant mortality acted completely at random–taking the genetically loaded and unloaded alike–or on factors completely irrelevant to load, the elimination of infant mortality must continuously increase the genetic load in the human population. Over time, if that load is not selected out–say, through more people being too unhealthy to reproduce–then we will end up with an increasing population of physically sick, maladjusted, mentally ill, and low-IQ people.
If all of the above is correct, then I see only 4 ways out:
Do nothing: Genetic load increases until the population is non-functional and collapses, resulting in a return of Malthusian conditions, invasion by stronger neighbors, or extinction.
Sterilization or other weeding out of high-load people, coupled with higher fertility by low-load people
Abortion of high load fetuses
#1 sounds unpleasant, and #2 would result in masses of unhappy people. We don’t have the technology for #4, yet. I don’t think the technology is quite there for #2, either, but it’s much closer–we can certainly test for many of the deleterious mutations that we do know of.
To summarize, our current generous welfare system is making it increasingly difficult for hard working members of society to afford to have children. Lazy and incapable people meanwhile are continuing to have children without restriction, courtesy of those hard working people. Its more than likely that average intelligence is falling as a result of these pressures.
Ever since someone proposed the idea of eguenic (ie, good) breeding, people have been concerned by the possibility of dysgenic (bad) breeding. If traits are heritable (as, indeed, they are,) then you can breed for more of that trait or less of that trait. Anyone who has ever raised livestock or puppies knows as much–the past 10,000 years of animal husbandry have been devoted to producing superior stock, long before anyone knew anything about “genes.”
Historically–that is, before 1900–the world was harsh and survival far from guaranteed. Infant and childhood mortality were high, women often died in childbirth, famines were frequent, land (in Europe) was scarce, and warfare + polygamy probably prevented the majority of men from ever reproducing. In those days, at least in Western Europe, the upper classes tended to have more (surviving) children than the lower classes, leading to a gradual replacement of the lower classes.
The situation today is, obviously, radically different. Diseases–genetic or pathogenic–kill far fewer people. We can cure Bubonic Plague with penicillin, have wiped out Smallpox, and can perform heart surgery on newborns whose hearts were improperly formed. Welfare prevents people from starving in the streets and the post-WWII prosperity led to an unprecedented percent of men marrying and raising families. (The percent of women who married and raised families probably didn’t change that much.)
All of these pleasant events raise concerns that, long-term, prosperity could result in the survival of people whose immune systems are weak, carry rare but debilitating genetic mutations, or are just plain dumb.
So how is Western fertility? Are the dumb outbreeding the smart, or should we be grateful that the “gender studies” sorts are selecting themselves out of the population? And with negative fertility rates + unprecedented levels of immigration, how smart are our immigrants (and their children?)
Data on these questions is not the easiest to find. Jayman has data on African American fertility (dysgenic,) but white American fertility may be currently eugenic (after several decades of dysgenics.) Jayman also notes a peculiar gender difference in these trends: female fertility is strongly dysgenic, while male is eugenic (for both whites and blacks). Given that historically, about 80% of women reproduced vs. only 40% of males, I think it likely that this pattern has always been true: women only want to marry intelligent, high-performing males, while males are okay with marrying dumb women. (Note: the female ability to detect intelligence may be broken by modern society.)
Counter-Currents has a review of Lynn’s Dysgenics with some less hopeful statistics, like an estimation that Greece lost 5 IQ points during the Baby Boom, which would account for their current economic woes. (Overall, I think the Baby Boom had some definite negative effects on the gene pool that are now working their way out.)
Richwine estimates the IQ of our immigrant Hispanic-American population at 89.2, with a slight increase for second and third-generation kids raised here. Since the average American IQ is 98 and Hispanics are our fastest-growing ethnic group, this is strongly dysgenic. (The rest of our immigrants, from countries like China, are likely to be higher-IQ than Americans.) However, since Hispanic labor is typically used to avoid African American (reported 85 average IQ) labor, the replacement of African Americans with Mexicans is locally eugenic–hence the demand for Hispanic labor.
Without better data, none of this conclusively proves whether fertility in the West is currently eugenic or dysgenic, but I can propose three main factors that should be watched for their potentially negative effects:
Welfare–I suspect the greater black reliance on welfare may be diving black dysgenics, but some other factor like crime could actually be at play.
I’m going to focus on the last one because it’s the only one that hasn’t already been explained in great detail elsewhere.
For American women, childbearing is low-class and isolating.
For all our fancy talk about maternity leave, supporting working moms, etc., America is not a child-friendly place. Society frowns on loud, rambunctious children running around in public, and don’t get me started on how public schools deal with boys. Just try to find something entertaining for both kids and grown-ups that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg for larger families–admission to the local zoo for my family costs over $50 and requires over an hour, round trip, of driving. (And it isn’t even a very good zoo.) Now try to find an activity your childless friends would also like to do with you.
Young women are constantly told that getting pregnant will ruin their lives (most vocally by their own parents,) and that if they want to stay home and raise children, they are social parasites. (Yes, literally.) We see child-rearing, like tomato picking, as a task best performed by low-wage immigrant daycare workers.
I am reminded here of a mom’s essay I read about the difference in attitudes toward children in the US and Israel, the only Western nation with a positive native fertility rate. Israel, as she put it, is a place where children are valued and “kids can be kids.” I’ve never been to Israel, so I’ll just have to trust her:
How Israelis love kids, anyone’s kids. The country is a free-for-all for the youngest set, something I truly appreciated only once I started bringing my own children there. When I was a teenager visiting Israel from the States, I noticed how people there just don’t allow a child to cry. One pout, one sob, and out comes candy, trinkets and eager smiles to turn a kid around. That would never happen back home—a stranger give a child candy?!—but in Israel, in a nation that still harbors a post-Holocaust mentality, there is no reason that a Jewish child should ever cry again, if someone can help it.
Incidentally, if you qualify under Israeli health care law, you can get a free, state-funded abortion. Abortion doesn’t appear to have destroyed Israel’s fertility.
Since male fertility is (probably) already eugenic, then the obvious place to focus is female fertility: make your country a place where children are actively valued and intelligent women are encouraged instead of insulted for wanting them, and–hopefully–things can improve.
Abortion and birth control are important tools in the ultimate human thriving toolkit.
Unless you want to eliminate all the robots and go back to agricultural labor (which is not going to get you an interstellar society,) you will have to deal, somehow, with all of the humans who don’t have the chops to survive in society. Letting people starve in the streets is inhumane and inspires people to fund large social welfare states, which may have negative long-term effects.
Historically, death rates were very high, especially infant mortality. My great-great grandparents lost over half of their 16 children before the age of five; such was normal.
As I believe I have mentioned before, there is nothing like a parenting forum to convince you that parents are idiots. Unfortunately, a very large percentage of people become parents because they are too dumb not to.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who tried to reassure me that this was not a problem. “Don’t worry,” they said. “Dumb people have always had more kids than smart people.”
“No,” I said. “No no no. Dumb people did not historically have more kids than smart people.” History was brutal; 20-50% infant mortality was the norm, and people who did a better job taking care of and providing for their children had more children who made it to adulthood than those who didn’t.
No one in their right mind wants to simply eliminate all maternal and childhood medical care (and hygiene) so we can return to the age of high infant mortality. There are far better solutions than giving everyone Smallpox and seeing who makes it. But you also do not want a situation where the primary barrier to reproduction is actually intelligence.
The obvious solution is free IUDs for everyone. Globally. The long-term planners will get theirs removed when they’re ready to have children, and the short term planners will be able to go about their business without making “oopsies.” People who want 18 children will still be able to have 18 children, but people who don’t have the resources to support children don’t have to have any.
Abortion also plays an important role in the maintenance of modern society. Ideally, free abundant birth control would eliminate most of the need for abortion, but there will always be mistakes, medical complications, and non-viable fetuses of various sorts. Eliminate these earlier, not later.
These are not the children of intelligent, healthy, well-adjusted people who have some weird phobia of childbirth. These are fetuses with health problems and fetuses whose parents don’t have the resources, mentally or physically, to take care of them. The apple does not fall far from the tree, and genetically, those children will inherit their parents’ traits. If you are not volunteering to raise those fetuses (and their fetuses) yourself, then I think you should give some serious thought to who you think will.
After all is said and done, I don’t care what Planned Parenthood does with aborted fetuses, so long as they’re disposed of hygienically. They’re already dead, for goodness sakes.